Friday, June 11, 2010

The Best Fitness Technology

These gadgets, software programs, Websites, and mobile apps will get you in shape at home or on the road.

With personal trainers producing YouTube fitness videos, iPod Nanos sporting pedometers, and yogis practicing tree pose using the Wii Fit--technology has become one of the best ways to set and maintain fitness goals. We consulted sports professionals, fitness enthusiasts, and tech companies to find the latest and most interesting hardware, software, and Websites that you can use to get in shape and stay the course.
General Fitness Gadgetry
A portable music player is still as important to workouts today as it was when the first wave of yellow Sony Walkmans hit gyms in the early 1980s. (For more tech oldies, see "The 50 Greatest Gadgets of the Past 50 Years.") One new fitness-focused model is the Philips Activa ($130), which adds workout software to a combination portable media player and FM radio. Enter your age, weight, and height, and the Activa will count calories, time, or distance as you engage in an activity such as running, cycling, or rowing. Use the TempoMusic feature in conjunction with the up and down arrows to find songs that match your speed, so you won't find yourself listening to speed metal during your cooldown. Need a little encouragement? Program a male or female voice to update you (whenever you hit the Boost button) on calories burned, distance covered, or simply the virtues of staying the course. Plus, you can download all of this information to your PC and track it over time.

The Polar WearLink+ Transmitter Nike+ adds heart-rate information to all of the workout data you track through Nike+ productsThe ultimate athlete's gadget is a heart-rate monitor. Polar, a popular maker of heart-rate monitors, has recently teamed up with Nike, which makes the Nike+ SportBand and iPod Sport Kit, to create the Polar WearLink+ Transmitter Nike+ (street price $70). This awkwardly named chest strap, slated to be available before the end of June 2010, transmits your heart-rate data to Nike+ devices for upload to the Web service for tracking over time. It's compatible with the fifth-generation iPod Nano and Nike+ iPod Sport Kit.

Want the pedometer sans the iPod? Released last year, FitBit ($99) is a souped-up pedometer that uses a 3D motion sensor to track your walks and runs, count your calorie intake, and even gauge how well you slept based on movements you made during the night. Wear the tiny clip at all times (in an included wristband while you sleep) and when you walk by the bundled base station, the FitBit will transmit data via a close-range wireless signal to, where you can track your activity over time. The base station also charges your device. The FitBit is made for walking, running, and general everyday activities. It won't accurately measure long bike rides, however, and it isn't waterproof so don't swim with it.

Nutrition and Weight Loss
You can track calories in and calories out with the free Lose It iPhone app.A multitude of weight-loss Websites and applications serve up huge searchable databases of different foods and exercises to help you count calories, analyze nutritional information, and use portion-control systems to dial down the pounds safely. But these services are only as good as the information that you put into them, and remembering to note every carrot and candy bar can be a pain in the very posterior that you're trying to slim down. Mobile apps such as Lose It (free), available for iPhone and iPod Touch, have made the task of logging in data about your meals a lot more spontaneous because you always have the app with you.

"I'd go and do it four times a day," says Kirsten Owen, a Bar Method instructor and former triathlete who used LoseIt to sharpen her awareness of what she was eating. LoseIt's database contained entries for a lot of the foods Owen ate, though its litany of prefabricated packaged foods didn't match her preference for cooking from raw ingredients or eating at restaurants. Still she was able to use the app's Recipe feature to determine the caloric make-up of her home-baked cookies and muffins. You can register for a LoseIt account to obtain more-detailed reporting, data backup, and a method for sharing results with friends.

DietPower; click for full-size image.If you're more comfortable using PC software, you might like DietPower 4.4 ($30), which lets you track 33 nutrients in more than 21,000 foods. It also has tools that encourage you to adjust your eating throughout the day by telling you which items you should be eating more of (skim milk) or less of (fudge). As with LoseIt, you can count carbs and cholesterol. The 4.4 version also lets you track trans fats, and enter portions by volume or weight.

Nutrition for You; click for full-size image.If you want to feel as though an actual human were determining your food fate, try Nutrition for You ($10 per month). Gina Gutierrez, general manager of San Francisco-based Diakadi Body Personal Training, calls it a great tracking system. "Our clients have used it quite a bit and have seen a lot of success from it."

Developed by sports nutritionist Manuel Villacorta, Nutrition for You creates a customized dietary plan based on your age, activity level, resting metabolic rate, dietary restrictions, and fitness goals. You use the Website to track what you eat and to read fitness news, tips, and recipes. If you need a little more help, you can sign up for 30-minute consultations with a registered dietitian at about $30 a pop, depending on the number of sessions.

The Withings Internet-connected Body Scale sends your weight wirelessly to an online account.For some people, success takes the form of weight loss, and if that's the cohort you belong to, the Withings Internet-connected Body Scale ($159) can help you measure keep track of the vanishing pounds Wi-Fi-style. A thin black-metallic unit with a backlit display, the scale wirelessly transmits your measured weight to your Withings Web account. You and up to seven other users can track progress over time. If you're feeling especially confident (or triumphant), you can broadcast your results via Facebook or Twitter or more discreetly transmit them to fitness services such as DailyBurn and RunKeeper.